Coaching vs Consulting

In a recent session with my Ironman coach, we got on the topic of how she and her husband were building their business, how coaching is a very individualized endeavor and how it doesn’t necessarily “scale”. I didn’t have much insight at the time related to her comment, but it made sense. She and her husband, both professional triathletes and coaches, only have so much time in the day after all.

This discussion got me thinking about the coaching I do in organizations. What makes me successful in my interactions with clients? Why do I prefer the coaching model over consulting (Big-6 style)?

I went home that night and had some further discussion with a friend of mine (Chris) who owns an organization that does business coaching. He had something interesting to say about the subject that proved to be very insightful. I felt like I “knew” the answer, but he made it clear to me after I bent his ear for a good hour. In fact, I say it all the time but it didn’t dawn on me until he reminded me of it. What was that wonderful insight Chris was coaching me to “discover”?

Well, most business owners (in his world), and software executives and managers in mine, need to find that emotional tie to an issue and work out the solutions on their own. If they don’t, and you GIVE them the direction they are seeking (even if you may be right) then you have failed to truly coach. Why? Because you have just put yourself in the distinct position of “owning” the outcome of your direction. If the direction works (and the first few attempts probably won’t) then you were wrong! They knew you were too good to be true!

Another likely scenario is that your direction will take some effort. Maybe it will even take multiple difficult steps. If your clients aren’t emotionally engaged in this decision, they will most likely abandon your suggestions, stop moving forward, and again you’ve lost.

Lastly, and probably worse for clients is you’re direction worked! Eureka! …What’s the problem then? Well, you have just created a dependent, complete with all the “frozen and can’t make a decision” trappings you can expect when the next issue comes along.

So what’s a better approach. As Chris puts it, “act like a coach and not like a consultant”. Get to the heart of the emotion with your clients. If the answer is obvious (to you), don’t jump directly to it without first helping lead the others toward the answer and let them discover it on their own. Their hard work and persistence will pay off and you won’t rob them of the engagement they so desperately need to make the difficult, and sometimes emotional journey to solving their own problems and thinking on their own.

Coaches do things this way because they know you have to perform when they aren’t around to help. Consultants on the other hand will happily answer all of your questions and bill you hourly when you come back to sit at their feet.

2 thoughts on “Coaching vs Consulting

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